This past season, 2018, marked the fourth year of Statcast in major league baseball. Used to track everything from exit velocity to how much a team shifts, the application kicked off an entire world of analytics previously unknown in baseball prior to 2015.
Last year, there was some incredible data collected by Statcast, including Trevor Story‘s 505-foot home run (the longest ever recorded) and Giancarlo Stanton‘s home run that came off the bat clocked at 121.7 MPH, representing the hardest hit home run since the application started tracking data.
While there was an abundance of clips highlighting the best and most skilled players in the game for 2018, most members of the Chicago Cubs do not find themselves anywhere near the top of most lists, at least offensively.
Let’s take a look at some of the best offensive Statcast numbers for the Cubs in 2018 with help from Baseball Savant.
The first metric we will look at is barrel’s per plate appearance. One of the newest metrics in baseball, a barrel is classified as “batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage…” (link to text).
In other words, a barrel represents a combination of the best struck balls and ones hit with the perfect, or near perfect, launch angle for success, meaning either a home run or extra base hit.
With that in mind, let’s dive into things.
It’s no surprise, but after digging around in the Statcast leader-boards for a while, Javier Baez’s name continued to pop-up near the top of most lists and barrels is no different.
Statcast uses “batted ball events” as a basis for everything tracked by their application. Any ball put into play that results in an out, hit or error, plus foul balls that result in outs, are considered a batted ball event. In 2018, Baez produced 444 such events, the 47th most among the 332 batters with at least 150 and the second most on the Cubs’ roster (Anthony Rizzo – 495).
In those events, Baez produced the 17th most barrels per plate appearance at 8.7 percent, racking up 56 on the year. That ranking slots the youngster right behind National League MVP winner Christian Yelich, the exact place Baez finished in that voting.
Baez’s breakout season which included a .290/.326/.554/.881 slash line in a career-best 160 games propelled the middle infielder to his first All-Star Game appearance and Sliver Slugger Award. Additionally, Baez’s success in the barrel’s department was aided by his career-high 35.8 percent hard contact percentage and his well above average HR/FB rate of 24.3 percent.
The 25-year-old’s lofty barrel percentage was less than three percentage points off Joey Gallo‘s mark (11.4 percent), the leader in the category, while beating out names like Aaron Judge, Manny Machado, Ronald Acuna and Story.
Baez is not the lone Cub in the top-50 on this list. Kyle Schwarber appears in the 47th spot with a 7.3 percent mark. With a considerable less amount of batted ball events, 291, Schwarber did not need nearly as many barrels, logging just 37 on the year.
Still, Schwarber did damage when he lined things up, smashing 26 home runs in 2018. His .238 batting average does not tell the entire story as the youngster boasted a career-best .356 OBP and top-notch slugging percentage (.467), matching his 2017 mark. The slugger’s success in getting on-base came in the walks department as Schwarber drew free passes at a 15.3 percent clip, better than three percent more compared to 2017 while at the same time cutting his strikeout rate from 30.9 percent in ’17 to 27.5 percent in ’18.
Hard Hit Percentage and Exit Velocity
It’s no surprise to see the same names atop the hard hit list that appear in the barrels category. Judge led all players with at least 150 batted ball events with a 54.1 percentage hard hit rate with the last two year’s worth of NL MVP’s also making an appearance in the top-ten.
As far as Cubs players go, you have to do some scrolling before you reach Schwarber’s name. At 45 percent and tied with David Freese, Schwarber slots in at 39th on the list, 16 spots ahead of Baez who logged a 43.2 percent mark.
Each season since 2016, Baez’s hard hit rate has increased with the biggest jump coming in 2018. From 34.8 percent in 2017 to better than 43 percent last year, Baez’s uptick in average exit velocity has a direct correlation. Up almost three full miles per hour from 2017, the youngster’s average exit velocity clocked in at 89.6 MPH, his highest since the 2015 season.
In addition to Baez, Schwarber also experienced his best year in the hard hit department. The lefty slugger’s mark in 2018 was a career-best and continued his streak of a hard hit percentage of at least 40 percent while also besting his average exit velocity from a year ago by 1.2 MPH.
Unfortunately, the Cubs were not well represented in either the hard hit percentage rankings or the average exit velocity department. After Baez’s 55th place mark in hard hit rate, Rizzo (40.6 percent) was the next highest Cub at 92, with Ian Happ (40.5 percent) at 95 and Jason Heyward (38.5 percent) and Ben Zobrist (38.2 percent) both in the 130’s.
Even with his career mark, Baez finished fourth among Cubs players in average exit velocity. Happ (90 MPH), Schwarber (90 MPH) and Rizzo (89.9 MPH) all bested the MVP front-runner with none able to break the top-70 in baseball.
Max Exit Velocity and Home Run Distance
Now we get into the fun part, at least for me. Everyone loves dinger’s, right? Luckily for the Cubs, they made their fair share of impressions on the home run leader-boards even though they managed just 167 as a team (22nd in baseball) during the 2018 campaign.
Let’s start with max exit velocity because that tends to be an important step in hitting the ball a long way. Again, we find some familiar names atop the rankings with Stanton, Gary Sanchez and Judge representing a Yankee monopoly for the top-three spots. However, the Cubs are also represented in the top-ten with Schwarber’s 117.1 MPH laser tied for the ninth hardest hit ball in 2018.
On April 24, Schwarber deposited the rocket into the right field seats at Progressive Field off Cleveland Indians’ starter Josh Tomlin. Below is video evidence.
While that was the hardest hit ball by a Cubs player with at least 150 batted ball events, that home run only traveled 389-feet due to the incredibly low launch angle. Clocked at *just* 110.5 MPH, Baez owned the furthest hit ball of any Cub in 2018, almost claiming the top spot among all major leaguers.
Almost four months to the day that Schwarber hit his missile, Baez uncorked a moonshot of his own, a 481-foot bomb on August 23. The home run, which came on an Anthony DeSclafani slider, left Wrigley and tied for the second longest blast of the season behind Story’s aforementioned 505-foot long-ball.
For Baez, that home run did not represent his hardest struck ball of 2018. That came on July 20 against the St. Louis Cardinals’ Brett Cecil as the 113.7 MPH ball traveled just 149-feet.
Baez’s 113-plus MPH ball landed him 55th on the hardest hit list, behind Willson Contreras who finished 44th with his 114.1 MPH rocket hit in early April.
With every leader-board, some amazing accomplishments can go unnoticed if you filter out certain things. For example, filtering out players with less than 150 batted ball events would be excluding Bote’s work in his time with the Cubs in 2018.
You see, in his 74 games with the big league club last season, Bote racked up just 127 batted ball events, or seven less than Josh Donaldson who just received $23 million from the Atlanta Braves.
Even with those limited events, Bote made the most of his situation, producing the fifth best average exit velocity (93.5 MPH) among the 369 batters with at least 120 batted ball events in 2018.
His 14 barrel’s in his limited time was more than Heyward’s 11 or Zobrist’s 12, putting him 51st with an 11.0 barrels per batted ball event percentage.
For Bote to have an average exit velocity exceeding 93 MPH, the youngster had to hit an awful lot of balls over 100 MPH, and that he did. Fourty-eight balls came off Bote’s bat in triple digits, accounting for 37.8 percent of the youngster’s batted ball events during his rookie season.
Perhaps the most memorable of those blasts came in mid-August against the Washington Nationals. Down three runs with just one strike left to work with and the bases loaded, Bote took Ryan Madson‘s fastball 442-feet to straight away center-field, sending fans home happy and ending the Nationals’ shutout.
Aside from that game-winning moonshot, Bote’s rookie season ended up not being one to remember. Yes, he enjoyed his fair share of clutch hits, but the 25-year-old managed a slash line of .239/.319/.408/.727 with an OPS-plus of 90 across 210 plate appearances.
With his skill for hitting the ball so hard, it doesn’t seem like too big of a fix to adjust his launch angle. Among players with 120 BBE in 2018, Bote recorded the 12th lowest launch angle at 3.5 degrees. No matter how hard you hit the ball, continuously hitting it on the ground will not do much good.
Save for some Javy Baez magic and David Bote heroics, the Cubs did not make a huge impact atop the Statcast leader-boards in 2018. Much of that had to do with Rizzo’s slow first half at the plate and Bryant’s shoulder injury that limited him to career-worst 102 games. Still, Baez had an outstanding season and Schwarber continued to put balls into orbit every other at-bat.
Here’s to hoping for much more success in 2019 and maybe even another World Series title.
*Thanks to BaseballSavant.com for having cool videos to use.
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